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The Jummas


How do they live?

The two largest tribes, the 350,000-strong Chakma and the Marma, are both Buddhist, while other tribes are Hindu, Christian or practice their own religions.

Marma baby playing at his mother’s feet. In the last 60 years, the Jumma tribes have gone from being practically the sole inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts to being almost outnumbered by settlers. © Mark McEvoy/Survival

The Hill Tracts are rugged and steep, making it difficult to grow food.

To make best use of the land, the Jumma tribes practise a form of ‘shifting cultivation’, growing food in small parts of their territory, before moving on to another area and allowing the land to recover.

This is known locally as ‘Jhum’ cultivating, the origin of the term ‘Jumma’. The Mru people live further away from the other Jumma peoples, on the hill-tops. They generally live in houses built on tall stilts.

What problems do they face?

The Bangladesh government has long seen the Chittagong Hill Tracts as empty land onto which it can move poor Bengali settlers, with scant regard for the area’s Jumma inhabitants.

Marma children. Ever since Bangladesh gained independence, the Jumma tribes have experienced waves of murder, torture and rape, and had their villages burnt down. © Mark McEvoy/Survival

In the last 65 years, the Jummas have gone from being practically the sole inhabitants of the Hill Tracts to now being outnumbered by settlers.

As well as being displaced by the settlers, who are given the best land, the Jummas have long faced violent repression from the Bangladesh military.

Ever since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971, the Jummas have experienced waves of murder, torture and rape, and had their villages burnt down in a genocidal campaign against them.

A Jumma political party, the Jana Samhati Samiti, with a military wing, was formed in response to these attacks.

In 1997, the Jummas signed a peace deal with the government which put an end to some of the worst atrocities.

However, many years after the signing of the peace deal, arrests and intimidation of activists, rape of Jumma women and other human rights abuses remain rife.

Land continues to be stolen from the Jumma tribal people by both the army, and by settlers who are supported by the government.

What can I do?

How does Survival help?

Survival has been working with the Jumma peoples for many years, protesting against violations of the Jumma’s rights and the violent repression they experience. Survival’s work put pressure on the Bangladesh government, helping to push them into signing the peace deal in 1997.

A Jumma spokesman told Survival that:

‘Only because of your efforts we have a ray of hope for our survival. You have brought about a sea change in the situation, now we have a hope for survival and a chance to reclaim our traditional homeland.’

However, the Jummas’ problems are not yet over, and Survival continues to work with the Jummas, calling for the return of the land stolen from them, an end to military occupation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and some autonomy for the Jumma peoples, so that they can regain control over their land and future.


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